The Terrible Hours

The Terrible Hours

by Peter Maas

Paperback(Mass Market Paperback - Reprint)



On the eve of World War II, the Squalus, America's newest submarine, plunged into the North Atlantic. Miraculously, thirty-three crew members still survived. While their loved ones waited in unbearable tension on shore, their ultimate fate would depend upon one man, U.S. Navy officer Charles "Swede" Momsen — an extraordinary combination of visionary, scientist, and man of action. In this thrilling true narrative, prize-winning author Peter Maas brings us in the vivid detail a moment-by-moment account of the disaster and the man at its center. Could he actually pluck those men from a watery grave? Or had all his pioneering work been in vain?

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780061014598
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 08/08/2000
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 320
Product dimensions: 4.22(w) x 6.80(h) x 0.88(d)

About the Author

Peter Maas's is the author of the number one New York Times bestseller Underboss. His other notable bestsellers include The Valachi Papers, Serpico, Manhunt, and In a Child's Name. He lives in New York City.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

It was a Tuesday, May 23, 1939.

In New York City, Bloomingdale's department store was promoting a new electronic wonder for American homes called television.

With great fanfare, United Airlines began advertising a nonstop flight from New York to Chicago that would take only four hours and thirty-five minutes.

In baseball, a young center fielder for the New York Yankees named Joe DiMaggio was headed for his first major league batting title.

The film adaptation of the novel Wuthering Heights, starring the English actor Laurence Olivier in his first hit movie, was in its sixth smash week.

Another novel destined to become an American classic, Nathanael West's portrait of Hollywood, The Day of the Locust, was dismissed in the New York Times as "cheap" and "vulgar."

In Canada, the visiting British monarchs, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, met the Dionne quintuplets for the first time.

In London, Ambassador Joseph P. Kennedy advised an association of English tailors that they would never gain a foothold in the American market unless they stopped making trouser waistlines too high and shirttails too long.

In Berlin, as Europe teetered on the brink of war, Hitler and Mussolini formally signed a military alliance between Germany and Italy with a vow to "remake" the continent. In Asia, meanwhile, Japan had finished another week of wholesale carnage in China.


That Tuesday morning, in the picture-postcard seacoast town of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, with Federal architecture and cobblestone streets dating back to the late eighteenth century, Rear Admiral Cyrus W. Cole,commandant of the Portsmouth Navy Yard, the nation's oldest, received a group of visiting dignitaries. Cole was a peppery little man with an imposing head and a piercing gaze that made him seem larger than he actually was. Although not a submariner himself, he had a particular affinity for the men who manned the Navy's "pigboats." His only son served on one, and before coming to the Portsmouth yard, which specialized in submarine construction, Cole had commanded the Navy's underseas fleet. Now he liked to wisecrack, "They sent me back to see how they're built."

When one of his visitors asked the admiral if he thought the United States might be drawn into the looming conflict in Europe, he said he hoped not. If it proved otherwise, though, any enemy would rue the day.

You hear a lot about those German U-boats, he declared, but they couldn't compare with the submarines that the Portsmouth yard was sending down the ways. This very afternoon the newest addition to the fleet, the Squalus, would return to her berth after a series of test dives. He promised a tour, so they could see her for themselves.

"Squalus? What kind of name is that?"

Cole confessed that he'd had to look it up. "It's a species of shark. A small one. But with a big bite," he added, smiling.

Then Cole passed his visitors over to Captain Halford Greenlee, the yard's industrial manager. Their arrival, arranged at the last minute, had forced Greenlee to cancel plans to go down to the overnight anchorage of the Squalus and board her that morning. Greenlee had been especially looking forward to it. His son-in-law, Ensign Joseph Patterson, was the sub's youngest officer.

"Sorry you couldn't go out with her today," Cole said.

"It's not the end of the world," Greenlee replied. "I can always catch her another time."


Two reporters for the Portsmouth Herald at the yard on assignment for other matters were the first outsiders to hear the news. After frantically gathering whatever scraps of information were available, they raced back to the paper.

Minutes later, just past two p.m., the first stark, bell-ringing bulletin clattered over Associated Press teletypes to newspapers and radio stations throughout the country:

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Terrible Hours 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
breic2 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A good story about the rescue of the surviving crew of a submarine, the "Squalus," that sank during a training dive in 1939, and then its subsequent salvage. Also includes background on the development of diving, in particular the use of alternative breathing gases, and information on the fascinating career of Momsen, who led the rescue effort. The book starts quite poorly, with the author just pasting together fragments of the stories of each and every survivor, but it gets much better past the first twenty pages.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I think Peter Maas did an excellent job, on writing this book. He told the history behind the man and the things that he invented. I like how he gave a minute-by-minute detail on the rescue and the events surrounding it. I couldn't put this book down. Peter Maas really did a great job.
Guest More than 1 year ago
To put it simply, I could not for the life of me put this book down. This non-fiction book has ALL of the excitement and suspenseful action of a fictional story. As others have said, its easy to read and extremely well written. Maas really has outdone himself here.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I'm an ex-submariner of the diesel and nuc era. I couldn't put this book down. Even if you're not familiar with submarine lingo, you'll sail through this book. Mr. Maas does an excellant job of blending many situations, all spellbinding, into one historical document that you will surely love and not turn away from.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This was a timely book to read given the events that occured with the Kursk accident. The story is an account of a submarine that went down off the coast of NH in 1939. While some of the crew were lost upon it's sinking, 33 of the crew where saved largely by the efforts of one man; Swede Momsen. Momsen spent 14 years developing deep sea rescue techniques and equipment and it was put to the ultimate test during those fateful days in May of 1939. If you enjoy history and heroic accounts then this book is a must read. I started it one morning and didn't put it down until I finished it that same night.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The story of the USS Squalus, her crew, and her rescuers is one that deservedly needs to be told. It, like the saga of Apollo 13, demonstrates how the direst situations can bring out the very best in us. Unfortunatly, this book, though well meaning I'm sure, tells the tale in a manner so irritating that making it to the last page is an heroic achievement in itself. For reasons unknown, Mr. Mass has chosen to write this book in the form of a narrative, rather than as straight, documented history. The result reads like a poor novelization of an even poorer made-for-TV movie, 'based on a true story'. We are presented with the assumed thoughts and emotions of the trapped crew, and page after page of clearly invented (and often, exceedingly lame) dialog. It is too easy to see the brave square jaws of the officers, exhorting the crew to be strong in their plight. An abrupt shift away from the sub, just as the disaster strikes, to a biographical background of Swede Momsen, reeks of prime-time suspense. It would be all too easy to insert a beer commercial at this point. The conception of Momsen's diving bell is covered in a single paragraph, almost as if he had come up with the idea while snoozing on the back porch one lazy afternoon. The development of the Momsen lung is omitted altogether, despite the Squalus crew having had some aboard. All we are told of their use is that you have to 'hang on to the ascent line'. The Momsen lung was a significant invention, predating Cousteau's Aqualung, and deserves much more clarification. A book of this type cries out for illustration. A cutaway view of the submarine is essential, as well as photographs of the sub and the significant personages. A recent newspaper review contained a wonderful photo of the diving bell - didn't Maas encounter it in his researches? Anyone with a true interest in naval history will be deeply disappointed by this book, and ought not to risk spending the same 'terrible hours' that I did with it.